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This post is a response to Armando's earlier post about Puerto Rico.  I have worked on Puerto Rico's status issue since my teens, with my most well known work coming from serving as a National Adviser on Hispanic and Latino Issues for General Wesley Clark. During Clark's 2004 presidential campaign, I wrote his then groundbreaking Puerto Rico policy that was adopted by the Democrats on their party platform that year.  

Armando states that, "there was significant support in Puerto Rico for statehood" in the early 1900s.  Significant?  Fewer than 20% of the population supported statehood at this time (if not less), and most of that support was centered on the territorial elite of the island.  Support for statehood in Puerto Rico would not hit 20% until the 1960s referendum.  And statehood was anathema enough among Puerto Ricans at the time that a rich Puerto Rican statehood supporter by the name of Luis Ferre was motivated to found the New Progressive Party to focus on solving Puerto Rico's socioeconomic problems first and creating good will for statehood in the process.

Armando also says that the "Foraker Act and its favoritism for American carpetbaggers, sparked the first real sparks for separation from the United States."  Again, not true.  There was a strong independence movement under the direction of Luis Munoz Rivera before the islands became a US possession.  The Grito de Lares was not some marginal event in Puerto Rican history; it almost resulted in Puerto Rico's independence from Spain.  The fact that an independence party wasn't legally constituted for many years after the United States took over has a simple reason: Being for independence in a Spanish or US military colony did not get you in the good graces of your leaders.

Armando then writes, "But not much interest from the United States."  Again, that's factually wrong.  Puerto Rico has a strategic location in the Caribbean, even to this date.  Puerto Rico is the closest northern hemispheric point to Latin America, Europe, Africa, and Asia.  This is why the United States wanted to snatch it from Spain, and why Spain clung on to it for dear life.  This is also why all the great powers of Europe fought for Puerto Rico for many years, despite the fact that Puerto Rico has no significant natural resources to speak of (at least since the Spaniards extracted all of its gold).  It's also the reason why many US companies such as American Airlines used Puerto Rico as their hub and took aggressive measures to prevent competitors from making inroads there.  

This strategic interest naturally translated into interest by the United States to annex Puerto Rico and turn it into a US state, along with Cuba.  In fact, contrary to what Armando argues, the FDR administration first offered statehood to Puerto Rico along with Alaska and Hawaii. Why?  The same reason it did so to Hawaii; the pro-statehood sugar plantation owners wanted it to promote their trade interests with the United States. But Luis Munoz Marin, who was an independence supporter turned it down and asked for commonwealth instead, the idea being that Puerto Rico was not in a position to seek independence at the time for it was too poor and that commonwealth would provide a transitory path to self-sufficient independence.  Of course, the commonwealth status, like other statuses, has built interest groups along the way that now lobby to prevent any change in status, including the one Munoz Marin wanted towards independence. Without the specter of communism on the international scene, the United States would not have offered statehood or commonwealth to Puerto Rico, let alone Hawaii or Alaska.

Armando spends a lot of time talking about why the Republican Party is deadset against statehood. He states, for example, that H.R. 3024 is "one of many phony federal initiatives for determination of Puerto Rico's status, this one from Don Young of Alaska in 1997," presumably because a Republican was promoting it. Cynical and wrong. Part of the reason why the Young family of Alaska is pro-statehood is because it witnessed firsthand how the issue had affected Alaska.  Receiving contributions from the statehooders in turn reinforced that position.  And as long as I can remember, Republicans have had Puerto Rico statehood on their party platform, only English-only proponents who tend to hail from the old confederacy oppose it.

And Armando mentions that Washington, DC, has never seriously considered changing Puerto Rico's status.  There's a very simple reason for that.  Whereas statehooders and independence supporters spend millions lobbying the US govt to change the status, the anti-free-association wing of the commonwealth party spends equal amounts to prevent any such change.  Without that wing, the US government would have long ago taken action to change Puerto Rico's status.

Finally, Armando writes that, "the United States would be ready to grant Puerto Rico independence as soon as you please. The problem for independence supporters is that it is not supported by a significant number of Puerto Ricans."  If the US wanted to give Puerto Rico its independence, it could do so unilaterally right now.  It won't do it because, unlike what Armando wrongly argues, Puerto Rico still has strategic value for the US.  If it didn't, the US would not have fought tooth and nail to prevent the stoppage of the live bombing in Vieques, let alone the closing of their military base there.  There's a reason why every ship going to the Middle East to fight the War on Terror would stop in Puerto Rico along the way: Its strategic location.  Great place for fueling the US Navy, among other reasons.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Puerto Rican Statehood? Why buy the cow (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ycompanys, LordMike

    when you can get the milk for free?

    Oregon:'s cold. But it's a damp cold.

    by Keith930 on Sun Nov 11, 2012 at 06:58:18 PM PST

    •  Kind of a weird euphemism. Puerto Rico is not (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      milking anyone's cow.

      It's true that Puerto Ricans do not get all the benefits of a union. Sure there are some cultural and economic issues that Puerto Ricans will have to decide.

      Minimum wage
      Political representation and power on the national level
      More support for Education, Social Security and other social welfare and anti poverty programs.
      Government and private investment.

      Possible disadvantages:
      Less autonomy
      Federal Income taxes
      More Americanization of language and culture

  •  thank you. (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ycompanys, science nerd, bnasley, YaNevaNo

    This whole PR voted to be a state has been making me crazy.

    And we sail and we sail and we never see land, just the rum in the bottle and a pipe in my hand...

    by Mortifyd on Sun Nov 11, 2012 at 07:03:42 PM PST

    •  And PR did not even vote for statehood! (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Mortifyd, NotGeorgeWill, bnasley

      The problem with the way the statehooders did this vote is that the commonwealthers and independence supporters can now argue that support for statehood was 54% (1st question) * 61% (2nd question), or 33%.

      Commonwealthers can argue their support was 46% (1st question).  

      Meanwhile, independence supporters can now argue that support for independence was 54% * (33% free association + 5% independence) or 21%.  

      So by creating the two-part question, statehood may have in fact dropped in support from the last referendum, from 46.6% to 33%.

  •  Viva Puelto Rico libre! (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
  •  Seems to me you undermine your own point (0+ / 0-)


    only English-only proponents who tend to hail from the old confederacy oppose it.
    Well, QED. Who runs the Republican party today?

    I don't have a dog in this fight.

    Ok, so I read the polls.

    by andgarden on Sun Nov 11, 2012 at 07:28:53 PM PST

  •  What do you think has changed in Puerto Rico (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    that lead to this vote?

    And what do you think the next steps will be? Will Puerto Rico lobby Congress for statehood? Or will competing interests continue to lobby equally for and against?

    "Do what you can with what you have where you are." - Teddy Roosevelt

    by Andrew C White on Sun Nov 11, 2012 at 07:32:53 PM PST

    •  Next Steps (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      NotGeorgeWill, Andrew C White

      The pro-statehood strategy consisted of the following:

      1. Delegitimize the commonwealth status.  That's what the first question was for, and they succeeded at that regard.  Puerto Rican voters rejected the current territorial status by a 54% to 46% vote.  That's not surprising, considering that many members of the commonwealth party favor free association, which is a form of independence.

      2.  Win on statehood question.  By winning the statehood question with 61%, they view themselves as being able to go to DC to claim a mandate for statehood.

      3. Reelect pro-statehood GOP governor Fortuno and Democratic resident commissioner Pierluisi.  The achieved the latter but not the former.  The reason they needed to do both was to be able to go to DC with a unified voice.  Fortuno could then lobby the GOP, while Pierluisi lobbied the Democrats.  Losing the GOP part of that equation is a big blow, especially because the English-only segment of that party will now have more leverage.  Moreover, the loss of the governorship to the commonwealth party means the commonwealthers will be in a position to lobby the government's resources to try to stop any progress on the status issue.

      The statehooders will likely seek two paths now:  

      First, they will have the resident commissioner lobby for the US Congress to pass a law that would require the holding of a binding referendum on the island.  (This is what the US Congress told them to do the last time; conduct your own vote on the island and show us there is a demand for changing the current status, and then we will authorize a binding referendum.)  

      But the statehooders know this is unlikely to happen, especially given that the commonwealthers will be lobbying the US Congress just as hard against it.  So the second path will be to lobby President Obama to have his Puerto Rico Task Force hold a binding referendum on the island.  This is much easier to do, since it doesn't require congressional approval and the task force has its own funding.  But the question is whether Obama will see he has anything to gain from doing so, e.g., mobilizing the vote in Florida's I-4 corridor, which already seems to be voting for him anyway, even without pushing for a resolution to the status issue.

      •  Isn't there a simpler route? (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Andrew C White

        There's no requirement for a binding referendum on statehood.  At this point, they can simply petition for statehood, and a simple majority of both houses is all it takes to admit them as a state.

        Now, it's possible that they won't be able to get the votes in Congress without another binding referendum, but that may or may not be true...

        •  Binding referendum (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Andrew C White
          it's possible that they won't be able to get the votes in Congress without another binding referendum, but that may or may not be true
          That's what they were told the last time they were in the US Congress.  They were told to go back home and do a referendum to show support, and then return with those results to the US Congress to ask for another referendum, this time for a binding vote.
  •  The revival of an old tradition (5+ / 0-)

    at least I''m not bad.

  •  Please keep debating both of you (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    NotGeorgeWill, bnasley, Manny, YaNevaNo

    I'm learning.  

    What, in your opinion, happens next?   What should happen on our end?   Would statehood overall be a good thing?   I tend to think so, I don't really see what would make them different citizens than anybody else in this country.  

    Statehood was not all good for Alaskan Natives but the alternative was probably worse.

    •  Next Steps (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Berkeley Fred

      First, let's differentiate between unincorporated and unincorporated and organized and unorganized territories.

      Puerto Rico's current commonwealth status is an organized but unincorporated territory.  The Puerto Rico commonwealth is considered organized because the US Congress has granted it a measure of self-rule as a result of an Organic Act subject to the plenary powers under the territorial clause of Article IV, sec. 3, of the US Constitution.  But it is unincorporated in that the US Constitution does not apply fully; instead, the commonwealth's affairs can be dispensed of by means of federal regulations and congressional laws that may at times conflict with the guarantees granted by the US constitution or the preferences of the local population.  The 1917 Jones Act organized Puerto Rico, so Puerto Ricans have US citizenship because of that law, citizenship that could be revoked if the US Congress chose to abrogate that law and replace it with something else.

      Should Puerto Rico seek statehood, it would first need to become an organized but incorporated territory.  Every territory that ultimately became a state had to first be incorporated.  With incorporation, the US Congress determines that the US Constitution is to be applied to the territory's local government and inhabitants in its entirety in the same manner as it applies to the local governments and residents of the US states.  Under such a status, the US Congress could not abrogate the extension of US citizenship to Puerto Ricans because Puerto Ricans would have it guaranteed by the US Constitution.

      So if Puerto Rico wanted to seek statehood, it would need to do the following: First, it would have to send a petition to the US Congress asking to be admitted.  Next, the US Congress would have to make Puerto Rico an incorporated territory and pass an Enabling Act to authorize Puerto Rico to draw up a state constitution.  Then, the people of Puerto Rico would have to ratify it via an election and submit the document to the US Congress.  Finally, the US Congress would then pass statehood legislation, and the US President would have to sign it.

      Would statehood overall be a good thing?  It's hard to answer that question with a simple "yes" or "no."  The best way to approach it would be to compare and contrast the current commonwealth status from statehood in some areas:

      - Full representation for Puerto Rico in federal affairs.  As a state, Puerto Rico would have similar representation as Oklahoma or Connecticut.  This means 2 US Senators and about 5 US Representatives and a vote for US President.  Currently, Puerto Rico lacks such representation.  Puerto Ricans can vote in the party primaries, and the resident commissioner can vote in congressional committees, but only if the parties and the US Congress decide to extend that right.  For example, when Puerto Rico wanted to halt the US Navy's bombing of Vieques, it had to ask the US President and the US Congress to do it.  But it had no political representation by itself to initiate a process to stop it.  Thus, under the current status, the US government can pass laws to govern Puerto Rico, without Puerto Rico being able to directly influence the process, outside of political donations.

      - Full taxation.  Puerto Rico would be subject to all federal tax laws by default.  This is a big cost, right?  The answer is that it depends.  While Puerto Rico does not pay federal income tax, the US Congress could pass a law requiring that it do so at any time.  But, while Puerto Rico does not pay federal income tax, it must pay for import/export taxes.  For example, Puerto Rico pays an export rum tax to the US that was once almost as high as 15%!  In a way, the rum tax plays the role of the federal income tax, as the US government assesses the tax and then returns most of the revenues back to Puerto Rico at the end of the year to pay for public works and social services on the islands.  Similarly, Puerto Rico pays nearly 7% on all imports, and all products must be transported by US ships only.  These are taxes that Puerto Rico would not have to pay as a state.  

      Where Puerto Rico had had an advantage is in having its own special tax exemptions.  If Puerto Rico were a state, it would be subject to the same federal taxes as other US states.  By virtue of its not being a state, it has been able to have special tax exemptions such as Section 936, which allowed US companies to benefit from a tax exemption on all of its profits by simply moving their operations to Puerto Rico.  While the Republican-led US Congress in the 1990s moved to remove this special provision, there is no reason why Puerto Rico could not have others.  But again, it would have to do so by lobbying via political contributions because the US government would be unlikely to create them on their own.

      - Equal participation in federal programs.  Currently, Puerto Rico does not participate fully in federal programs.  Federal programs are extended to Puerto Rico on a case-by-case basis, as deemed necessary by the US government.  For example, Puerto Rico would receive more medicare than it currently does, where it to be a state.

      - Cultural matters.  Whether Puerto Rico is a state or not, it would only be able to have its own official language be Spanish as long as there were not a US congressional law to the contrary.  But, whereas Puerto Rico can have its own international representation under commonwealth, it would not be able to do so under statehood.  This means no Olympic team, no Miss Universe contestants, and so on.  This may seem as a small disadvantage, but it is not.  Never underestimate nationalist sentiments.  Pro-statehood Puerto Ricans feel that they are treated as 2nd class citizens by virtue of their being a commonwealth, so the extent that that's a widely shared sentiment, statehood would be advantageous in that regard.

      Legally-speaking, Puerto Rico probably benefits the most from independence, with the caveat that its Spanish-speaking neighbors like Cuba and the Dominican Republic have not been able to translate these advantages into economic competitiveness.  This is why support for independence hovers at no more than 5% in Puerto Rico but increases substantially when you include free association.  Under free association, Puerto Rico would benefit from guaranteed financial assistance for a 15-year period, the idea being that this provides time for the newly independent nation to transition its economy away from the United States.

      •  statehood would cost taxpayers a fortune, (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        so I'll go out on a limb and say its a bad thing.  PR should be an independent nation, full stop.

        •  This is why people like the current situation. (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          Basically, Puerto Rico already enjoys a pretty nice deal as their current status, which is why statehood votes have generally foundered.

          Independence would be very expensive for them.

          I'll take the opposite view:  In a world where you basically can't buy sovereign territory for love or money, the idea of getting an additional state is simply too good to pass up, even a relatively poor state.

          •  Interesting view (0+ / 0-)
            In a world where you basically can't buy sovereign territory for love or money, the idea of getting an additional state is simply too good to pass up, even a relatively poor state.
            Pretty novel way of thinking about the issue.
        •  I agree - let's give PR independence (0+ / 0-)

          rather than statehood.

          "let's talk about that"

          by VClib on Mon Nov 12, 2012 at 11:28:14 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Force it on them? (0+ / 0-)

            So...would you strip citizenship from all Puerto Ricans, or only those who aren't resident on the island? What about Puerto Ricans in the military - should they be sent home as soon as the island is granted independence, or should they be required to finish the years they had signed up for?

            How would you handle social security and medicare payments? Should current beneficiaries continue to receive the benefits? What about people who have paid into the system for decades, but haven't reached retirement age? What about people who have paid into the system for, say, 9 years (i.e., too short a time to be vested)?

            Any way you put it, I find the "let's give PR independence" to be an awfully paternalistic attitude to your fellow Americans - people who have served their country in disproportionate numbers ever since they've been eligible.

            •  RLF - I agee that it would have to be a staged (0+ / 0-)

              event. All the current residents are US citizens and that could not be changed. The political independence could come quickly, but the economic ties would be in place for several generations.

              "let's talk about that"

              by VClib on Mon Nov 12, 2012 at 01:53:16 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

        •  And that would save money? (0+ / 0-)

          Why would statehood be more expensive than independence? For Puerto Ricans, independence would require them to take over expenses currently handled by the federal government. Statehood, on the other hand, would add federal taxes, but it would also add additional federal spending.

          Curious why you think independence would cost the Puerto Rican taxpayers less money than statehood.

  •  Puerto Rico Governor-Elect Unable to Speak English (0+ / 0-)
  •  Interesting diary. (0+ / 0-)

    You emphasize the strategic interest:

    This strategic interest naturally translated into interest by the United States to annex Puerto Rico and turn it into a US state, along with Cuba.  In fact, contrary to what Armando argues, the FDR administration first offered statehood to Puerto Rico along with Alaska and Hawaii.
    Former appointed PR governor Rexford G. Tugwell (appointed by FDR) said the following in the Foreword to my dad's book:
    It is almost a miracle, I have sometimes thought, that Puerto Rico did not in the forties become independent. The Philippines did; and peoples adherent in one or another way with all the old Empires were demanding it. And it was the way neighboring Cuba had gone. Certainly the United States would have been willing. I often said so when I was governor. With President Roosevelt’s concurrence, I habitually told the Puerto Ricans that they need not try to pose as minions, exploited and downtrodden. They were, I told them, friends and brothers. And friends and brothers associate; they do not quarrel. If Puerto Ricans should choose to sever the old relationships, we continentals would see them go in peace and with our best wishes.

    "Do not judge your neighbor until you walk two moons in his moccasins." Cheyenne

    by maracatu on Tue Nov 13, 2012 at 03:11:08 PM PST

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